SpaceX Sets New Records
It recovered its rocket booster for a third time and launched its largest number of missions in a single year
Photo – SpaceX
In one fell swoop, using a single Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg military base in California, SpaceX launched 64 small satellites into space on Monday in a mission called SSO-A.
The launch was the first time SpaceX used its rocket booster for a third time. The rocket booster, which was covered in black soot from its previous launches, landed – as before – on a remote-controlled platform on the Pacific Ocean.
SpaceX’s goal has been to make space flight more affordable and the successful reuse of parts – like the rocket booster – is the key element in that strategy. Now that SpaceX has proven the durability of its rocket booster, it may go on to use the rocket booster four or more times, fundamentally altering the economy of rocket launches.
SpaceX also hopes to reuse the rocket’s “fairing,” the nose at the top of the rocket that protects it when it’s being launched. It outfitted the nose with parachutes and tried to catch it in an ocean net. While it didn’t manage to catch it in the net, the nose has been recovered. It may be reusable if salt water didn’t deal too much damage to its instrumentation.
“Nothing wrong with a little swim,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted.
Another milestone for SpaceX was that this was the company’s 19th launch this year, surpassing its last annual record of 18 launches.
While the large number of satellites brought into space was a record for SpaceX, it wasn’t a world record. That honor goes to India, where its space program launched 104 satellites into space using a single rocket.
In any event, the mission illustrates businesses’ growing demand for small satellites, which are being used both for internet service providers and for supply chain monitoring. The 64 satellites that SpaceX brought up were on behalf of a company called Spaceflight, which is positioning itself as a kind of Uber service for outer space.
Currently, there’s a massive backlog of small satellites waiting to get to orbit. And companies like SpaceX and OneWeb are racing to send constellations of thousands of high-speed internet satellites into low-Earth orbit.
“While hitching a ride with larger payloads is considered the cheapest option for getting to space, many nascent rocket companies are promising lightweight rockets that can be mass produced and make cheap, frequent trips to orbit. One such company, U.S.-based Rocket Lab, became the first to reach orbit, and has notched two missions so far. Its backlog of customers is so long that CEO Peter Beck told CNN Business the company is ‘not constrained by customers right now — we’re only constrained by how quickly we can build rockets'” CNN reported.
It’s also raised questions about satellite regulations to prevent the accumulation of space junk or “orbital debris,” as even a small fleck of paint running into a satellite can cause critical damage.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which authorizes telecom satellites for launch, is considering updating a set of 2004 rules, “seeking to keep pace with technological and market changes, and to incorporate improvements in debris mitigation practices,” the FCC said.
Meanwhile, another launch that was scheduled for the International Space Station today had to be postponed to tomorrow because of moldy mouse chow. Researchers were planning to send mice and mouse chow up to the space station for an experiment. As it turned out, there was some mold on some of the food bars and they couldn’t be replaced in time. So that mission is now aimed for Wednesday afternoon.